This year’s Cannes Film Festival has been postponed, organizers announced March 19, with new dates being considered for the end of June. It’s by far the largest global film event to be called off amid the growing worldwide coronavirus pandemic, which has led to the cancellation and postponement of dozens of events in recent weeks. Cannes’ 73rd edition was set to take place May 12 – 23. The event, in its modern history, has never been canceled.
Its cancellation is set to add to the pain already being felt in an industry faced with a litany of called-off events, halted productions, and an obliterated global box office — the loss of splashy premieres and an opportunity to make deals on the French Riviera are now just one piece of the economic woes facing the business.
“Several options are considered in order to preserve its running, the main one being a simple postponement, in Cannes, until the end of June-beginning of July, 2020,” organizers said in a statement. “As soon as the development of the French and international health situation will allow us to assess the real possibility, we will make our decision known, in accordance with our ongoing consultation with the French Government and Cannes’ City Hall as well as with the Festival’s Board Members, film industry professionals and all the partners of the event.”
Most of the over 150,000 confirmed global cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, so far have been in mainland China, but numbers have increased in Europe and the U.S. in recent weeks. France and northern Italy, very close to the French Riviera where Cannes takes place, have been particularly hit hard.
The French government had earlier prohibited gatherings of 5,000 people or more in confined venues, which Cannes organizers insisted would have no impact on the festival — its largest venue, the Lumiere Theatre in the palatial Palais des Festivals, seats 2,300. The country later upped the ban to 1,000 people or more, then this week prohibited all social and family gatherings.
That spelled big trouble for the viability of the festival, but organizers continued their insistence that the show would go on, even going so far as to say that the online market announced Thursday spearheaded by CAA meant to replace some on-the-ground activity at the Marché du Film would take place alongside the in-person market at the festival.
Marché head Jérome Paillard told IndieWire the market was making additional plans for online screenings and meetings that would take place regardless of what happens with the festival. But now, with 264 deaths and 9,134 as of Wednesday, France entered its second day of nationwide lockdown and people are banned from leaving their homes except for essential trips, Cannes organizers finally announced the postponement.
A festival rep declined to comment further until new dates are set.
This is just the latest showing of how much the outbreak is impacting daily life, special events, and the economy at large. In the U.S., President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency and urged people employ social distancing. Some 6.9 million residents in the San Francisco Bay area have been ordered to shelter in place and Trump suggested limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people, adding to measures being taken at city, county, and statewide levels that includes the closure of entertainment venues and prohibiting dine-in service at restaurants.
The Cannes-based international television conference MipTV was canceled March 4, while Canneseries, the concurrent competitive television festival, was moved to October 9. In Greece, which is also dealing with the outbreak, the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival was postponed.
Beginning last week, the industry faced a flurry of cancelations. All three major American theater chains have shuttered all their locations and Netflix, Disney, NBCUniversal, Sony, and Warner Bros. have halted production of some or all of their shows and movies.
SXSW was canceled on March 6 after the local government in Austin issued a disaster declaration, which ordered the festival be called off. What that can be an important distinction when it comes to realizing insurance claims, Cannes is reportedly in an unusual position: It turned down insurance coverage that could have covered outbreak-related losses. Organizers said the package its insurer offered would not have covered much of the potential losses. It has a budget of around $22 million.
Adam Siegel, entertainment manager at insurance company American Agents & Brokers Inc., told Variety that some disease-related coverage kicks in only if the government makes the call to cancel an event — rather than organizers doing it themselves. In the case of MipTV, the festival waited to receive an official request from the French government in order to finalize its insurance claim.
As the outbreak was leading many other major events be called off earlier, Cannes organizers insisted that things were moving forward as planned with two months to go until the festival kicks off — too early to speculate, one spokesperson said. Cannes attendees were willing to take a wait-and-see approach, with none announcing plans to cancel their attendance. Experts are still divided on when the outbreak will peak, but seem to agree that the situation will get worse before it gets better.
Compare that to SXSW, which was canceled less than a week before it was set to begin. The decision came as many participants were backing out out of an overabundance of caution, either for their specific events at the Austin gathering or, like in the case of Twitter, as part of corporate policies that limit travel. Those nixed plans were starting to paint a picture of an empty SXSW; the festival’s television offerings, for example, had been significantly hollowed out after companies including Netflix and Amazon canceled planned premieres.
This story has been updated.